Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Booknote: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters

Erik Burnham,, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2015. ISBN: 9781631402531.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheroes, humor, science fiction, children and YA.
Format: e-book
Source: Provided by publisher as e-galley via Netgalley in exchange for honest review. 

This was a light and entertaining crossover comic. A new invention, a dimensional transporter, goes haywire, and the Turtles get transported to a very different New York City, the NYC of the Ghostbusters. As usual in this kind of crossover, the two teams need to learn how to work together. In this case, they unite to fight an ancient evil that followed the Turtles through the transporter.

Though it is labeled children's fiction, it is pretty much good entertainment for all ages. It is certainly one I can recommend to public libraries, especially if they already have other TMNT or Ghostbuster comics. These are not the Nickelodeon TMNT, but the comic will likely appeal to those fans as well.

The volume provides a nicely paced, entertaining story with some good humor and plenty of action. It is neat to see how the two teams come to work together. Also, it is a nice and very colorful with the art, which enhances the volume.

I really liked this one, so I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies

Seth M. Holmes, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States.  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-520-27514-0.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: politics, current events, ethnographic studies, medical studies, labor studies
Format: Paperback
Source: Book provided for Dean's Faculty Book Reading Group. 

I usually do my review segment first, then I do additional reading notes after the review. However, this book gave me so much to think about, that I am just presenting my reading notes along with my commentary to give my four readers a sense of my thought process as I read it. You will find my rating and overall assessment at the end of the post.  This is a book with a timely and sensitive topic (the 2016 election is coming up in the U.S., and I am sure some presidential candidates will want to talk about immigration). It is a complex topic, and the author strives to be inclusive of all sides, though the focus is on the undocumented workers, Triqui indigenous people from Mexico in this case that he follows and learns from. Still, it is not a perfect book, and I will discuss the pluses and minuses as I go along.

The first chapter serves as an introduction. Her the author describes  how he set up his ethnographic project. When he arrives at the Mexican border town of Altar in Northern Mexico, he notices the town seems to be set up for border crossers. One has to wonder how much law enforcement in both sides is most for show. After all, the border crossing provides cheap labor in the United States, which the U.S. can't do without, and it provides a source of revenue to Mexico via remittances. The author writes:

"Everything is so clearly and obviously set up for border crossers in this town. I wonder to myself why the whole operation hasn't been shut down by the U.S. Border Patrol if their primary goal is really to stop undocumented entry" (12). 

The chapter's structure goes back and forth between the author's narrative of the project and flashbacks of the journey to cross the border. And here comes a spoiler; he gets caught the first time he attempts to cross with some other undocumented workers. What strikes me about that is how casual and easy the author gets mistreated and gets his rights violated. He barely got to make a phone call. The agents pretty much play hardball in nothing more than a bully display of power. As the author writes:

"I wonder to myself with the agents seem so focused and angry at me when there seem to be so much more clearly dangerous criminals in the borderlands on whom they could focus their time and energy" (23).

When he finally manages to get out of jail, he asks what a few of us often ask as well:

"I wonder why law enforcement officers seem often to lack respect for the other human with whom they are interacting" (25). 

One reason I am sure is because they are not worried about being held accountable for their abusive actions.

The second chapter is largely the obligatory explanation of the scholar, what his field does (anthropology and medicine in his case), and justifying the validity of the work. This is not exactly riveting reading, but given what he is trying to achieve overall, it is necessary to lay down the foundational groundwork.

Moving on, when it came to things like NAFTA, the U.S. basically cheated in terms of agricultural subsidies. NAFTA banned tariffs, so the Mexican government was forced to ban tariffs on corn, which was the primary crop of indigenous families in Mexico. However, subsidies were not banned, so:

"Thus the U.S. government was allowed to increase corn subsidies year after year, effectively enacting a tariff against Mexican corn" (25). 

The result is that subsidized American GMO corn (by the way, these subsidies are also a big reason why we find corn syrup and derivatives in all sorts of products) undersold and flooded the Mexican market. If Americans wonder why all those poor Mexican farmers risk their lives to work in the United States, this is a key answer. The U.S. has to bear a lot of the blame for causing the issue.

Holmes goes on to show that the body of the worker itself is a major source of information. The aches and pains of labor "offered important field notes on social suffering. Without paying attention to my bodily experiences, I would have missed out on much of the valuable data about the everyday lives of migrant laborers" (35).

Throughout the book, Holmes brings in critical theory to further explain and illuminate his experiences. For an academic audience, this is essential to establish credibility as well as to provide insight.. However, at times, the theory can be heavy. If the goal is to get other people to read this book too, then the theory may get in the way given the strength of the book is really in the narrative experiences and the stories of the Triqui people.

Another issue I can see is that the farmers and owners who employ undocumented workers are part of a system, but at times Holmes may be a bit too sympathetic to these farmers and owners. He writes:

"Of course, the executives share some complicity with the unfair system, and some are more actively racist and xenophobic than others. Overall, however, perhaps, instead of blaming the growers, it is more appropriate to understand them as human beings doing the best they can in the midst of an unequal and harsh system" (53). 

Human being in an unjust system, sure, but my sympathy only goes so far for racists and xenophobes and those who excuse or enable them. And I am even less sympathetic to growers who show allow their workers to live in subhuman conditions to save a few extra bucks. As nice, decent, church going as the Tanakas are, they still have workers living in squalor, and they do benefit from it. I guess the definition of "ethical farm" is in the eye of the beholder. And yet the reality that Americans do not generally acknowledge is that:

". . . the current structure of U.S. farming would be impossible without undocumented migrant workers" (65). 

Another strength of the book is that Holmes not only learns from the experience. He not only looks at both labor and management. He also looks at the health and bodies of the workers, how they suffer physical and mental pains from the work and their forced journeys.

And what is some of the cost of crossing for Triqui laborers?

"Crossing the border from Mexico to the United States involves incredible financial, physical, and emotional suffering for Triqui migrants. Each migrant pays $1,500 to $2,500 to various people along the way for rides and guidance. They walk hurriedly in physically impossible conditions, getting speared by cactus spines, attempting to avoid rattlesnakes, climbing and jumping over numerous barbed-wire fences--all the while using no flashlights in order to avoid being seen by the Border Patrol and vigilante groups. As a rule, they do not bring enough food or water because of the weight. Every step of the way carries a fearful awareness that at any moment one might be apprehended and deported by the Border Patrol, which would entail beginning the nightmarish trek all over again after figuring out a way to scrape together enough money for another attempt" (92).

And by the way, if they do manage to get here, they are not exactly making a fortune, plus they often get cheated on pay. Samuel, a laborer, tells the author about pay and costs:

"Samuel: Here with Tanaka, we don't have to pay rent, but they don't pay us much. They pay 14 cents a pound. And they take out taxes, federal taxes, social security. They pay $20 a day.
. . . They don't pay fairly. If a person has 34 pounds of strawberries, 4 pounds are stolen because the checker marks only 30. It is not just" (76).

And if things were not bad enough, American (read United States) media loves to rile up public hysteria about "illegal immigrants." However, let the division chief of Border Patrol in Washington State speak on these workers:

"these migrants are more hardworking and law-abiding than most U.S. citizens. He stated that they drive the speed limit, they pay their taxes, they work very hard, and they avoid any activities that would draw attention from the police. In fact, the division chief explained to me that Social Security in the United States would have gone bankrupt years ago if it were not for the undocumented workers paying into it without collecting from it. He went on to say that every once in a while, there is a Mexican migrant who commits a crime, just like there are U.S. citizens who commit crimes, and these undocumented migrants are sought and deported. Otherwise, he said, he is not interested in prosecuting people who are working hard on U.S. farms" (187-188). 

And how does U.S. society show its gratitude to these hard workers that bring their produce to their grocery stores?

"American society gains much from migrant laborers and gives little back beyond criminalization, stress, and injury" (197). 

Overall, this is a solid and fairly wide ranging look at migrant farm labor in the United States from various perspectives. Given Holmes worked alongside some of them and crossed borders with them, he is well able and informed to bring their stories to life. There is a lot more I can say about this book, but the best I can say is read it and learn from it, and then find something to do, even if it is a small action. This book needs to be read beyond the usual choir. Maybe send it to a few Congressmen to read. It is not an easy read at times, and it can get a little dense here or there, but it is a necessary read. As a final note, the book does feature some graphs and some photos, photos mostly taken by the author, which add a good visual element for the text.

3 out of 5 stars given I liked it.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dark Engine, Volume 1

Ryan Burton,, Dark Engine, Volume 1: The Art of Destruction. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2014. ISBN: 9781632151766.

Genre: Graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: apocalyptic, horror, science fiction
Format: e-book.
Source: Electronic galley provided by NetGalley in exchange for honest review. 

From the book's description:

"The world is cracked and in ruin. The air is full of dead men's ashes, fallen colossi smother the earth with their decayed husks, and infectious monsters roam freely.

In their desperation, a group of alchemists have created a killer named Sym from obscene magic, outfitting her with an engine that will allow her to travel back in time to stop whatever it was that made their world so.

But the alchemists don't realize that the engine is sentient, that their unstoppable killer is powered by the seed of their destruction.

Newcomers Ryan Burton and John Bivens present the opening arc to what industry veteran JH Williams III (Sandman: Overture, Batwoman, Promethea) describes as "an otherworldly horrific poetic movement that is immediately immersive."

Collects Dark Engine #1-4." 

I wanted to like this one more, but there were two issues with it. One, the story is very convoluted. In spite of the book description, the author tosses the reader right into it with very minimal introduction or set up. You have an idea about the alchemists and Sym, but that is about it. At times you are just not sure why Sym does the actions she does; it seems she is a killer for the sake of killing. I can kind of get that, if that is the case, I am not sure. Other elements, like the pilot, I simply could not fully grasp. The other issue was the art. It is colorful, and it can be gruesome; that is perfectly fine by me. But it is also very cluttered. This is a case of the artist packing way too much stuff into the frames.

In the end, this could be a case that I may need to read it again. However, it seems more a case of this is a pretty messy story that goes from one subplot to another, often with minimal transition, unclear motivations, and cluttered art. I could appreciate the craft of the art overall though; the plot not so much, which was a mess. I may or not seek out the next volume.

It was just OK, so it gets 2 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

Michael R. Veach, Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: an American Heritage. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-8131-4165-7.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: history, alcoholic spirits, Kentucky, whiskey, bourbon.
Format: Hardcover
Source: My library

This was an interesting little book that looks at a bit more than just Kentucky bourbon. As part of providing context, the author discusses various parts of U.S. history and even provides small glimpses of whiskey from other places to show how bourbon had to compete to establish its place.

As the author writes in his preface, he attempted to provide a good survey of Kentucky bourbon. I think he succeeded as he wrote an easy to read book that fans and beginners can appreciate. The book features nine chapters starting from the early days of whiskey in the U.S., taking us through its history to a glimpse at the twenty-first century and what the future may hold.

Another strength of the book is in the photos. The author worked for a time as an archivist for Stizel-Weller Distillery; the company was later acquired by United Distillers. Some of the photos come from that UD collection,  but he also brings a few photos from other sources. The photos of ads and people do help to bring the history to life.

In the end, the book left me wanting more at times, but it is overall a very good starting point to learn about Kentucky bourbon. If you wish to read further, the author does include an annotated bibliography of old and more recent sources.

I really liked it, so 4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Booknote: The Jedi Doth Return

Ian Doescher, The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-59474-713-7.

Find it at a library near you (link to WorldCat). 
Buy via the publisher Quirk Books (link to publisher page).

Genre: Drama, play
Subgenre: science fiction, space opera
Format: hardcover
Source: Provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

I finished reading this, and I have to say it is a great wrap-up for the trilogy. Doescher's Shakespearean channeling elevates the Star Wars story to the moving and exciting epic it is. This volume really brings it home. We get solid and insightful soliloquies, humor, wit, wordplay, and drama.

Since it is set as a Shakespearean play, there are some liberties the author takes. Basically he sets up the scenes so we see them as performed on stage. Our imaginations then can see the saga in full as we read. An interesting detail is the language. Though most of the play is in iambic pentameter verse, there are variations, which are consistent with Shakespeare. Boba Fett the bounty hunter speaks in prose. The Ewoks speak in short lines of AABA rhyme. These examples reflect the uniqueness of characters. Doescher discusses how he uses language in the afterword of the book. If you find such details interesting, reading the afterword is worth it.

Like a good Shakespearean play, this one does have five acts. The action builds up to the climactic lightsaber duel and the space battle to determine the fate of the galaxy. If you already know the story, you'll get a deeper appreciation here. If not, there you are in for a treat and a great play. In addition, Doescher does pepper the play with real Shakespearean lines, as in lines you may seen in other plays. It was fun finding those lines and seeing how the author made them fit in. Think of it as a small bit of fun.

In the end, the volume is a great addition to the trilogy, and it is an excellent read. If you've already read the previous two, you have to pick this up. I definitely recommend it as a fun read. It is also a great choice for libraries. Both fans of Star Wars and Shakespeare alike will enjoy this.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenge:

Signs the Economy is Bad: April 23, 2015 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

A lot of stuff going on since the last post. If you are poor in the U.S, it is a very bad time for you. But some people have done well enough. Let's have a look.

  • If you are in Kansas, and you are poor, they really hate your guts there. They are passing new laws just to make things harder for poor people who may need public assistance. This is basically a statement of how much Americans hate the poor; if the poor saps would hurry it up and die so the rest of the nation do not have to see them, that would be nice. Story via Common Dreams (but it has been in quite a few news outlets).
  • The hate for felons in the U.S. is notorious. Though many preach about rehabilitation for criminals, the reality is those folks and most of the U.S. would love nothing better than to lock them up and toss away the key. It is why when felons get out of jail and try to remake their lives, it is practically impossible for them to find housing, a job, and now, well, no access to food stamps and public assistance if they need it. And then we wonder why so many turn again to a life of crime. Story via AlterNet
  • In New York, they are finally questioning the practice of "on-call scheduling" for workers. If you happen to be in retail or food service, this is the common practice where "employees can wind up spending time, and money, commuting to their job, only to be told to leave early, or that they're not needed at all that day. A sudden call to work can mean scrambling for child care, or turning down much-needed hours. And a constantly shifting schedule can lead to uneven earnings, with income spiking in some months and plummeting in others, making it incredibly difficult to budget." Folks with steady jobs tend to lack sympathy for these folks, but as the old adage goes, there but for the deity of choice go I. Robert Reich goes on to explain why this is basically an insidious way to exploit workers and ruin families all in the name of the might dollar. Stories via City Lab and AlterNet.
  • If you live in a rural area, odds are good you are seeing job losses. Story via The Daily Yonder.
  • And if you are an LGBTQ person of color, economic hardship and poverty are very likely in your future. A new report, "Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for LGBT People of Color examines the economic insecurity this group experiences, compared to white LGBT people and non-LGBT people of color." You can read the full report here. Story via The Advocate
  • The plight of college adjunct teachers is back on the news. People in the U.S. love to think that being a professor is all peachy in the Ivory Tower. The reality is that colleges and universities shameless exploit adjuncts to pack those classrooms (unfortunately, it's not like they pass the savings on to students given how tuition keeps rising in cost over time). A new "report [link to report] shows that part-time—adjunct—faculty at colleges and universities are on some form of public assistance at about half the rate of fast-food workers" Story via AlterNet. Think about it: they are worse off than Starbucks baristas, who at least do get health benefits and earn more than a college adjunct that usually has at least a Masters degree if not a doctorate. But hey, it is not all bad, right? ". . . [A]n adjunct from Vermont reports that she’s 'allowed to get free coffee in the dining room before 11 a.m. if she brings her own cup.'” That's right, just pay her in coffee in addition to whatever measly wages you pay. In the end, it boils down to teaching for food. Second story via Common Dreams.
  • Hell, the economy is so bad even one of the guys who cooks for U.S. Senators and Congressmen has to go on public assistance because they don't deign to pay him a living wage. Why would they bother? They outsourced their food service to some company that basically pays exploitation wages to the workers. I used the AlterNet report, but this story has been all over the news. Not that honorable men and women in Congress would have any sense of shame or human decency to do anything about it while they stuff their faces with food that, at the end of the day, we taxpayers pay for. It's so bad the guy finally went on strike. We'll see where that goes. It does boil down to this: "American voters should ask themselves: if presidential candidates won’t help the workers who serve them every day, will they really help the millions of low-wage American workers who they don’t know or see?" I will save you the thinking: the answer is no they won't, and Americans will still be stupid enough to vote for them. There is an election coming up in 2016; we'll see. This other story via Crooks and Liars.
  • Now, people can rag on the poor all they want. They should not, but they do. And they usually do without having any facts or touch with reality. Reality such as the fact that "that 73 percent of people receiving public assistance are members of working families." This is according to "a report from the University of California's Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education released Monday. . ." Again, you can either keep subsidizing rich corporations that refuse to pay living wages and as a result have to keep spending tax money on public assistance, or you can demand said companies pay living wages so those folks do not have to go on public assistance. You cannot have it both ways, and if you choose to subsidize the corporations, then you cannot whine about workers with poverty wages needing public assistance. Story via The Week.
  • Now you know the shit has hit the fan when even McDonald's is having troubles. In their case, it is a combination of the bad economy and the fact that other food places are taking their lunch. Story via Bizmology.
  • In the end, this should go without saying but it clearly needs saying. The poor don't need your moralizing and judgmental bullshit. What they need is a helping hand and a damn living wage so they can lift themselves up. Really, it is that simple. Story via Common Dreams.
  • Or if that article was too complicated for you, allow the Rude Pundit to give you a summary in two paragraphs of what it's like to be poor in American in 2015. If after reading that, you still don't get it, there is no hope for you.
  • Or here, how about you read what some children suffering from poverty have to say in their own words? If this does not move you, may the deity of choice have mercy on whatever passes for a soul for you. Story via Addicting Info.
  • And I have to add one more because this is a long term bad sign. The marriage part we can kind of debate, but the bottom line-- that there will be a big epidemic of people who will get Alzheimer's disease and have no one to care for them when it comes-- is a valid one that should concern us all. Story via Big Think, which includes link to a Psychology Today article on the topic. This also goes along with some points I learned in reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (link to my review).

In the end, for this week, I think this summarizes the feeling well:

However, let's not be so pessimistic. As usual, some folks do very well in the bad economy. Granted, it is often at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable, but hey, as any good capitalist will tell you, you have to screw over a lot of people to make a fortune. So let's have a look at who has been doing very well lately:

  • The prison-industrial complex continues to do just fine. Private prison corporations need those jails to stay nice and full so they can make money. So, one way to do that is this: "Private prison companies are spending millions of dollars to lobby the U.S. government for harsher immigration laws that, in turn, spike corporate profits by driving up incarceration levels, a new report from the national social justice organization Grassroots Leadership reveals." Story via Common Dreams. If you are interested, this is the link to the report itself. In addition, poverty continues to be criminalized, and this is good news for private prison corporations as well as predatory judicial collection agencies (aka the vultures that courts lazily outsourced the collections of fines to). Read more on how poverty is being criminalized and fueling mass incarcerations. Story via Abolish Prisons, with a hat tip to Poor as Folk.
  • Unfortunately, in the bad economy, sometimes the uber rich have to suffer a small inconvenience. The Itinerant Librarian apologizes in advance to those rich people who may suffer small indignities in the bad economy. I mean, people rising up to demand better work conditions and wages is usually great. Except when it inconveniences some rich guy. Alec Baldwin sadly suffered such indignity when a workers' protest recently caused a traffic jam in his route. I am sure Mr. Baldwin suffered a serious hardship while being briefly delayed since clearly he was not able to find an alternate route. To a guy worth about $65 million bucks, the little people pleading "in the most measured of ways, for some kind of dignity—some kind of way of life" are just a pain in the ass. Story via AlterNet. Anyhow, we are sure Mr. Baldwin will sleep just fine. 
  • Credit card issuers and companies are doing great as credit card debt continues to grow, and they keep piling on the interest and extra fees. Apparently, Americans are using plastic again a lot (I can't imagine why. I mean, those stagnated wages would not have anything to do with it, would it?). Who else is doing well? The financial service processors. Who the hell are they you ask? Well, for one, they are companies that "make money from merchants on every point-of-sale system installed and every swipe of the plastic, are also banking from the recent credit card binge." And there is more, so read on. Story via Bizmology
  • Medical tourism is also doing well. Given that the American health care system is an embarrassingly expensive boondogle, if you can go overseas to care for some medical basics like dental, knee, or cosmetic surgery, you may as well. After all, even with things like plane tickets, the hotel you may stay in to recuperate before you fly back, it is still a fraction of the cost of the medical procedure in the U.S. Who is gaining from these medical tourists? Latin America and Asia. And these countries are seriously getting into it with strong marketing campaigns in some nations to attract those medical tourists. Story via Bizmology.
  • And while in the U.S., the tobacco industry is getting hit hard by those "health nuts," in China, cigarette sales are doing very well. This is an interesting piece that discusses how the Chinese government runs China National, which is basically bigger than even Philip Morris and is basically a monopoly in China and much of Asia, is doing quite well financially. Story via Bloomberg.

Booknote: Adolf, Volume 3: The Half-Aryan

Osamu Tezuka, Adolf, Volume 3: The Half-Aryan. San Francisco, CA: Cadence Books, 1996. ISBN: 1-56931-133-1.

Genre: Manga
Subgenre: historical fiction
Format: trade paperback
Source: My local public library
Series: Third volume in a five volume set.

I continue reading this great series. In the previous volume, the documents containing Hitler's secret appear to be destroyed. Yet reporter Sohei Toge is still being chased by the Japanese Secret Police and by a Gestapo agent. Meanwhile, in Germany, Adolf Kaufman is doing very well at the Hitler Youth School. In fact, he is doing so well he gets sent to Lithuania to help hunt down Jews, and even gets ordered to kill Isaac Kamil, his best friend's Adolf Kamil's father. Meanwhile, back in Japan, Adolf Kamil meets Miss Ogi, who may well be his only hope to get the documents out.

Tezuka weaves quite the tale full of thrills and suspense. You just keep on reading. If you know the history, you can certainly appreciate the perspective Tezuka brings, and you can also tell where the author took a liberty here or there for the fictional art. The manga art works very well to bring the tale to life. The volume also includes an introduction by Matt Thorn discussing Tezuka's work in terms of modernism and humanism.

It keeps getting better, so I am giving this one 5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Booknote: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2014. ISBN: 978-0-393-24023-8.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: memoir, autobiography, mortuary science, history, trivia
Format: hardcover
Source: My local public library

This memoir of a crematory worker is a fascinating book that blends memoir with mortuary trivia and history. We learn about the mortuary industry in the United States and about mortuary practice around the world. I learned a lot from reading. I have expressed before that when my time comes I would like to be cremated, and after reading this I can say I still would like that. Believe me, once you learn what goes on into the embalming process, you'd consider cremation too. Sure, the book's topic may be morbid for some readers, but the author makes it interesting, accessible, and we even get some moments of light humor. This may be a book that more people need to read, if for no other reason than to demystify mortuary industry.

For me, this certainly qualifies as one of my best reads for 2015. Caitlin Doughty's memoir of working at a crematory then going on to mortuary school and striving to provide better options for the dead and their families is moving, fascinating, and engaging. In writing about the dead, she writes with respect and compassion. In writing about the need to improve mortuary practices, she is a passionate and knowledgeable advocate.

The author does a great job at educating people about death rituals and the mortuary industry that she works in. She also dispels many myths and misconceptions the industry often promotes; the industry does it for various reasons, including financial incentives. The mortuary industry sees her as lifting the curtain on secrets of their trade, but these so-called secrets are things that everyone needs to know in order to prepare for a good death.

Overall, this is a must-read book, and I highly recommend it. It is a great book for both public and academic libraries. Public libraries will want it for the popular discussion of death rituals and culture. Academic libraries may want it not just for the popular discussion material but also for the historical accounts presented. The book also features a section of notes for sources.

5 out of 5 stars.

* * * * *

Additional reading notes:

On how death moved to hospitals and was medicalized:

"Dying in the sanitary environment of a hospital is a relatively new concept. In the late nineteenth century, dying at a hospital was reserved for indigents, the people who had nothing and no one. Given the choice, a person wanted to die at home in their bed, surrounded by friends and family. As late as the beginning of the twentieth century, more than 85 percent of Americans still died at home" (43). 

By the 1930s, death became a medical process. The hospital was now "a place where the dying could undergo the indignities of death without offending the sensibilities of the living" (43).

Embalming was mostly, in recent times, a marketing and consumer ploy. But embalmers managed to shroud themselves in a medical cover to make themselves appear legitimate, professional, and respectable, when they were mostly hucksters who made money in war time for sending battlefield corpses home. They had quite a marketing operation to spin a better narrative:

"Manufacturers of embalming chemicals aggressively marketed the unique image of the embalmer as a highly trained professional and technical mastermind-- an expert in both sanitation and the arts, creating corpses for public admiration" (81).

Keep in mind that:

"Never mind that corpses had been kept quite safely in the home, prepared by the family, for hundreds of years" (81). 

And the sad thing is:

"North Americans practice embalming, but we do not believe in embalming. It is not a ritual that brings us comfort; it is an additional $900 charge on our funeral bills" (83). 

Doughty discusses the 1963 book The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford. The book, an expose of the funeral industry and "not at all too kind to funeral directors" (107), was a bestseller in its time. However, in many ways Mitford did keep enabling the death denial culture. The book's big issue in the end was the predatory and mercenary practices of funeral directors:

"In writing The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford wasn't trying to improve our relationship with death, she was trying to improve our relationship with the price point. That is where she went wrong. It was death that the public was being cheated out of by the funeral industry, not the money. The realistic interaction with death and the chance to face our own mortality" (113-114). 

For the most part, the process of decomposition has disappeared from the process of death for society:

"The modern corpse has two options: burial with preservative embalming, which grinds decomposition to a halt into perpetuity (or at least until the body starts to harden and shrivel like a mummy); and cremation, which turns into ash and dust. Either way, you will never see a human being decaying" (158). 

This can also explain the obsession and fascination society has with zombies, an obsession that has gathered more steam recently with shows like The Walking Dead (though ironically that show, and the comic that serves as the show's source, has become less about zombies and more about the evil men do to each other, a paean to "stand your ground" types). On this fascination, the author writes:

"Because we've never encountered a decomposing body, we can only assume they are out to get us. It is no wonder there is a cultural fascination with zombies. They are public enemy number one, taboo, extraordinaire, the most gruesome thing there is--a reanimated decomposing corpse" (158). 

She also goes on to discuss how the burial process  usually works. That part of the book is worth reading as it dispels many common misconceptions.

The real reason embalmers embalm:

"Embalmers embalm because they think it makes the corpse look better, because they've been told it's what's 'right' and 'decent,' and because it makes it easier to control the viewing. Also, they get paid for it. Not because the microorganisms present in an un-embalmed body pose any threat to a family" (174). 

We understand the science of death and how germs actually work. There just is no reason to say proximity to the dead, especially just for brief moments of closure, will harm the living.

And we the living do need closure when death comes:

"A corpse does not need you to remember it. In fact, it doesn't need anything anymore--it's more than happy to lie there and rot away. It is you who needs the corpse. Looking at the body you understand the person is gone, no longer an active player in the game of life. Looking at the body you see yourself, and you know that you, too, will die. The visual is a call to self-awareness. It is the beginning of wisdom" (174). 

Even the bad economy gets the dead along with the living:

"In bad economies, major cities see a drastic increase in unclaimed bodies, not all of them homeless or even without a family. A son may have loved his mother, but if his house is in foreclosure and his car repossessed, his mother's body might shift from relic to burden very quickly" (204). 

The author's definition of a good death:

"For me, the good death includes being prepared to die, with my affairs in order, the good and bad messages delivered that need delivering. The good death means dying while I still have my mind sharp and aware; it also means dying without having to endure large amounts of suffering and pain. The good death means accepting death as inevitable, and not fighting it when the time comes. This is my good death, but as legendary psychotherapist Carl Jung said, 'It won't help to hear what I think about death.' Your relationship to mortality is your own" (222). 

I could certainly get behind that idea. Death is coming for us all; we may as well make peace with it and be ready.

Let me take a moment or two to look at a few thoughts presented in the book that no one really considers. One, a physician and medical school professor she spoke to stated the following:

"By 2020 there will be a huge shortage of physicians and caretakers, but no one wants to talk about it" (222). 

Now ponder the above, and add this in:

"The fastest-growing segment of the US population is over eighty-five, or what I would call the aggressively elderly. If you reach eighty-five, not only is there a strong chance you are living with some form of dementia or terminal disease, but statistics show that you have a 50-50 chance of ending up in a nursing home, raising the question of whether a good life is measured in quality or quantity" (223). 

And that assumes that there will be a caretaker for all those deteriorating old people let alone them or their families being able to afford a caretaker or a quality nursing home. Deity of choice help those who end up in an understaffed, poorly run nursing home, one of those that once in a while end up in the news while the rest of society cringes.  Now the author is not writing this to be mean to old people, but consider that, in contrast to the 1800s, when folks tended to die quickly, today modern medicine basically allows people to spend years on end actively dying, dragging out the inevitable, often causing more suffering not just for the one dying but for the family. Thus, consider the following:

"We do not (and will not) have the resources to properly care for our increasing elderly population, yet we insist on medical intervention to keep them alive. To allow them to die would signal the failure of our supposedly infallible modern medical system" (224). 

Those passages about the elderly really made me think. I'll be honest. I would rather die early and in peace than be held prisoner to the medical establishment. Keep in mind the reality is most elder folk, most of which are women by the way, will end up in an overcrowded nursing home, slowly and painfully dying, and that's if you are lucky. Only very few will have a solid and good retirement plan and a devoted caretaker. Those few are exceptions, not the rule.

And in the end, when it comes to the frantic efforts to extend life, as in much else in life, just follow the money:

"It is no surprise that the people trying so frantically to extend our lifespans are almost entirely rich, white men. Men who have lived lives of systematic privilege, and believe the privilege should extend indefinitely" (228).

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Booknote: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Volume 1

 Kevin B. Eastman and Peter A. Laird, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the Ultimate Collection, Volume 1. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2012. ISBN: 978-1613770078.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes
Format: Oversized hardcover.
Source: My workplace library

For fans who know how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got started before they got sanitized by Nickelodeon and bad movies, this is a great compilation. It is also great for folks who do not know how the TMNT got their humble beginnings.

The art is in black and white. However, this volume is an oversized edition, so it really let's you appreciate the details. The volume's covers are done in color, and they look great. This was clearly not a comic for little kids. In this volume, we get the origin story of the TMNT. Did you know that Splinter trained them to kill Shredder? Yes, the honorable sensei was actually training a hit squad to get his revenge. The stories are entertaining, and they offer plenty of action. They are actually pretty deep in terms of plot as well. It is also interesting to note that the creators were not sure if the comic would survive; they went on to create a substantial series and story line that goes from the inner city to space and beyond.

This volume includes the following:

  • The Mirage Studios run of TMNT issues 1-7. 
  • The Raphael Micro series one-shot. 
  • Annotations and commentary by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. This definitely adds value to the volume. Fans will appreciate reading their insights and learn about the creative process. If you are interested in "how they did it," then this additional material should be of interest. 
 I would say that for collectors this volume is a must-have. It makes an excellent library selection, but again, I have to emphasize this is not for little kids. This is one I highly recommend, and I will seek out other volumes in the set. It is one I would add to my personal collection, though at the moment its almost $50 retail price is a bit out of range for me, but maybe down the road.

5 out of 5 stars. 

Booknote: American Vampire, Volume 4

Scott Snyder, American Vampire, Volume 4. New York: DC Comics, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-4012-3718-9.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: vampires, horror
Format: Trade paperback
Source: My workplace library

I thought I had made notes on this book a while back, but upon reflection it seems I missed it. Thus let's make some quick notes now. This series continues to an excellent read, and it is one I continue to recommend. This time, we travel to 1950s California where Travis Kidd is a rebel with a cause. Vampires slaughtered his family, and he is now on a personal mission of revenge to kill every vampire he finds. The vampires in the suburbs have learned to fear Travis. Snyder does capture the feel of this era quite well in this action-packed story. In fact, a pleasure in reading this series is just that: the author always gets the feel of the time period right. There is always good attention to detail. Plus the color and the art are very good at depicting the horror of these vampires.

The volume also features a Skinner Sweet story. This is one before he became an American vampire. Before he became an outlaw, he was a soldier fighting the Indians out in the American frontier. And at this point, the Indians are desperate, so much so they are willing to unleash a new horror. Overall, the volume is a great addition to this series.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Booknote: The Empire Striketh Back

Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-594747151.

Genre: drama
Subgenre: space opera, science fiction
Format: hardcover
Source: Copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

I continue to enjoy Ian Doescher's Shakespearean take on the Star Wars saga with The Empire Striketh Back. I recently watched the movie trailer for the new episode seven movie, which I believe is due out in December of 2015 (go Google it if you must. I am pretty much passing up on the whole film since it looks from the trailer it will be a lot of CGI visual bloat). A book like this reminds me once more that Star Wars (at least as presented in the original films) is an epic story. This book highlights the epic and tragic elements of the drama.

The author continues to channel Shakespeare in this volume. The Empire strikes, and the days get darker for the Rebellion. Young Luke Skywalker begins his Jedi training as Han and Leia will fall into a trap. The duel scene between Luke and Darth Vader is one of the greatest passages in the book. Tension, drama, action, all in the great Shakespeare tradition.

The only issue I had with the book is that some of the monologues and asides do seem a bit drawn out. One example for me was the guards scene in Cloud City. This could have been shorter. However, that was a minor issue for me, and in the end, there is much to love in these books. Fans of Star Wars need to be grabbing this series. I really liked this one, and I will continue on to the last volume of this trilogy. Public libraries need to have this one on their shelves. It is also a definite must-have for academic libraries with recreational reading collections.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Booknote: Deadman Wonderland, Volume 1

Jinsei Kataoka, Deadman Wonderland, Volume 1.  San Francisco, CA: Viz Media, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4215-5548-5,

Genre: Manga
Subgenre: dystopian
Format: paperback
Source: My own library
This is part of a series (ongoing as of this post).

From the book's description:

"Framed for the brutal murders of his classmates by the mysterious Red Man, middle-school student Ganta Igarashii finds himself sentenced to death in the bizarre and fatal theme park/prison known as 'Deadman Wonderland.' The inmates of this insane penitentiary fight for survival every day to provide entertainment for the masses. Ganta is determined to survive Deadman Wonderland and clear his name, but the price may be his soul…" 

This is a series that I will keep on reading. I am not a huge fan of dystopias, but when they are well made and intriguing, I take a chance. Ganta's challenge will be not to lose his soul as he struggles to survive. I will admit that the premise that gets Ganta into prison is quite farfetched; the trial was barely such. In the end, that is just the device to get him in there. It is in the prison that the mystery really starts. Who is Shiro, the mystery girl with a touch of insanity that comes and goes? Who is the Red Man? Why did he frame Ganta? And what is his connection to the prison? The author sets up these and other questions, questions that will keep the readers curious and interested as the story deepens.

The pace of the story is quick. Once you pick up the volume, you are in right away. Once Ganta is imprisoned, he fails the basic rule of common sense: when you are given a book of rule, read the damn thing. Some of the issues he faces could have been ameliorated had he read the book. Still, there are many more challenges to Ganta's survival (and not all the answers are in the book), including the fact that death is a very real possibility in this prison/amusement park. He will have to work hard to stay alive, and he will clearly need to wise up. It remains to be seen at this point if does get his wits about him.

So, great pacing and good action with some mystery and deep intrigue are tossed into the mix. This is one series I will keep reading. There is some carnage, but it is not as brutal as other series in this genre. I am highly recommending it, and I hope the series continues to keep up the goodness.

5 out of 5 stars.

Some works I have read with similar appeal:

  • Battle Royale
  • The Running Man. (Read the book, not so much the film).
  • I will add this will likely appeal to fans of The Hunger Games (taking a guess here as I have no interest in the this series, but from what I know about it, the appeal elements are there).

Signs the Economy is Bad: April 10, 2015 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

A lot of stuff going on in the last couple of week, so let's get on with it.

  • College basketball was the big story last week with the end of March Madness. University of Kentucky got close, but they did not make it all the way. Still, they did very well overall. Now you would think that this would mean an economic windfall for them. Sure, they will get a good chunk of money, but they also stand to lose quite a bit of it. Turns out their loss to Wisconsin will lose them a few bucks in royalties from merchandising, but it is the retailers who sell all those "we are champions, blah blah" tee shirts who are really going to lose money. That and a whole lot of Third World countries will be getting new shipments of tee shirts and other clothing merchandise no one here wants.  Story via ESPN.
  • If you are poor, having a smile is getting harder. No, it is not that being poor gives you less reasons to smile. It's that access to affordable dental care is much worse if you happen to be poor. Dentists are not exactly known to be affordable for starters. Unlike other doctors, whose costs are (somewhat) reigned in by HMOs and insurance, dentists rarely have such restraints, and their charges can be quite astronomical for things as simple as a cleaning. People often put off going to the dentist precisely because they are so expensive, and it seems the dental profession has no interest in addressing that. I mean, why mess with the gravy train, right? Now, why is this a story now? Well, when it was just the poor, as usual, no one gave a shit. But now that it is affecting the middle class, it is becoming a problem. Story via AlterNet.
  • We are getting to that wonderful time of the year: tax season. If you are getting a refund on your taxes, you probably want it soon. The predators of those tax preparer services know that as well, which is why they invented things like advances on your refund, and other fees to separate you from your money. Low income families who may be a bit desperate are most vulnerable to this exploitation. Story via Equal Voice.
  • And in the U.S., since humiliating the poor in every way possible is the national hobby, the poor can't catch a break. Not only are debtors' prisons alive and well for people. They are alive and well for their dogs too. You lose  your dog, and the pound gets it, you are screwed when they blackmail you: pay up our outrageous fee, or we kill your dog. "Across the country, some animal control agencies seem to be targeting low-income pet owners and applying large fines to small infractions." Story via AlterNet
  • And speaking of debtors' prisons, at least a small bit of good news as one of those vulture companies that "collect" fees for courts was recently charged with racketeering. Not a full solution, but it is certainly a good start.  Story via Mother Jones
  • And speaking of rackets, a lot of municipalities are using traffic tickets to help add funds to their budgets. Yea, cops very often do have quotas. Catch the clip and hear John Oliver explain how cities exploit the poor with citations and tickets to make their ends meet.  As the story reports, "municipal violations most often involve traffic tickets and parking tickets, but can also include fines for things like loitering, trespassing, 'failing to vaccinate your ferret,' peeing in public (despite a woeful lack of public restrooms in many places), spitting, and jaywalking." Story via Addicting Info.
  • Given the bad economy, raising your own food be it via a modest garden or maybe raising your own chickens for eggs and meat seems like a great idea. But if you live in a city, that could be a challenge. If you want chickens, you may not be able to afford or find the space to keep chickens. Well, if you can't afford your own chickens, here is a service where you can rent the chickens, coop and feed included. Story via Good.IS. 
  • And speaking of food, this may be of interest to some folks. A new report out by the Economic Research Service on "The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2014 Annual Report." Find the link to the full report here via Full Text Reports
  • In the end, we the average folks and the poor may be screwed overall as the uber rich keep buying off influence and power. They already own the politicians, and now they are also buying off churches and non-profits (the ones who could have helped counter their oligarchy). Robert Reich explains how. Story via AlterNet.

On the positive, some people have had it real good recently. And not all were rich. It turns out if you are hateful, bigoted asshole, and you announce it to the world, people will actually send you money. So, how did the uber rich and the bigots do this week?

  • The highlight of the week is what I mentioned: be a bigot, announce it to the world with joy, and people send you money. Yes, that petty small town pizza maker in Indiana who announced she would discriminate against gays got paid not to work. And you thought government farm subsidies were bad. For me, that says more about the people who sent her the money than her. There is a lot of bigots out there.  Story via Addicting Info (though I think by now, the funding has gotten higher than that report as of this post).
  • Now hate and conflict not only pays for bigots. It also pays for large weapons suppliers. Hell, they are pretty shameless about admitting it: yes, war is very good for business. Fuck, you don't even need a real war. Just the threat or perception that war could come is great for business. Story via AlterNet.
  • Do you live in New York City? Are you rich? Do you need to get around in luxury without having to mingle with the hoi polloi? Well, if you own a yacht or a plane, the city will be happy to give you a tax break. Because we all know they so desperately need a tax break. Story via Daily Intelligencer.
  • And if you need to ride a helicopter to get around, well there is a nice helipad under the FDR in New York City. Plus, since waiting for your helicopter ride can be harrowing, the place even has its own speakeasy so you can sip on a martini while you wait. Story via
  • Finally, let's say you want to get out of the city. Maybe you feel like "roughing it a bit and going camping? Not a problem. Now if you have money to burn, you can buy a very nice and fancy hybrid yacht-camper. It only starts at $17,000, so what are you waiting for? Story via The Week.

Booknote: All-Star Western, Volume 2

Jimmy Palmiotti, All-Star Western, Volume 2: The War of Lords and Owls. New York: DC Comics, 2013. ISBN: 9781401238513.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: Western. Steampunk.
Format: Print. Trade Paperback.
Source: My local public library

In this one, Jonah Hex trails a kidnapper to New Orleans, and he has to work with Amadeus Arkham a while longer. However, before Hex can complete his task, he has to help his friends Nighthawk and Cinnamon deal with the August 17 terrorist group. If that was not bad enough, back in Gotham City, he confronts the Court of Owls and the followers of the Crime Bible as both groups struggle for control of the city.

The action continues in this volume as Hex and Arkham continue their awkward partnership. The story was entertaining and quick to read. For fans of Batman and the Owls' story, this is one they will want to read to see the early days of Gotham's Court of Owls.

The rest of the volume contains some additional stories.  The Nighthawk and Cinnamon story is the best of the bunch as the couple looks back at how they got started as masked heroes. The Bat Lash story is pretty much a filler story that adds very little to this volume. The Terrence 14 story is also filler, but it was a bit better. Terrence 13 is a man of science in the 19th century called to solve the case of a thieving ghost. Folks who like some steampunk may find the character appealing. The short story was good, but it was no big deal.

Overall, this is a good volume with good art. Fans of westerns will likely enjoy it. In terms of appeal, if you like things like Wild, Wild West (the series, not the movie), The Outlaw Josey Wales, and maybe Brisco County, Jr, you may like this series as well. Batman readers may be interested too. This is one I recommend for libraries with graphic novels and comics collections.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Booknote: Being Dead Is No Excuse

Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays,  Being Dead Is No Excuse: the Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral. New York: Miramax Books, 2005. ISBN: 9781401359348.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: regional, etiquette and manners, funerary customs,  food, Southern  U.S., humor (well, there is some humor.)
Format: Hardcover.
Source: My local public library.

This book may sound morbid on the surface, but this guide to U.S. southern manners and behavior for funerals, using Greenville, Mississippi as model, has amusing moments and humor. Food is a big part of southern funerals, so the book also includes some authentic southern recipes. Funerals in the Delta are not just funerals; they are full-blown social events. As the authors write,

"A nice funeral is good for everybody. If the family has been through a long, painful sickness, it's a chance to pull themselves together, spruce up, sober up, and put on their best dark clothes (white is acceptable during the Delta summer) and bid the dearly departed a formal farewell" (28). 

The book strives to settle some deep questions, such as who does better food for funerals. Is it the Episcopalian ladies or the Methodist ladies? This is discussed in the second chapter of the book.  On the one hand, Methodists seem to have the upper hand in covered dish casseroles, and "historically, Methodists are better behaved than Episcopalians" (33). On the other hand, Episcopalians do drink and do so more openly. Yet, if you are not too pretentious, given that being pretentious is apparently a requirement of a southern funeral, then Methodist cooking may be for you. Heck, "when polled anonymously, many Episcopalians admit to a secret preference for the eclectic Methodist goo" (35). I do think the use of the word "goo" may reveal the authors' biases a bit.

Chapter 3 discusses the delicate art and taste of having a good obituary, an obituary that tastefully focuses on your positives. However, you do have to do it right:

"There is a difference between touching up a few details and an extreme make-over. In an obituary, you must strive to make the deceased look their best-- but not look like somebody else. After all, this is a moment for which they've been waiting all their lives. Selectivity is the key to success in this delicate undertaking" (68). 

This can include what can, politely at best, be called a white lie or two. Are you a lady who did not finish college because going to parties and dating boys and taking hard classes were a problem? You made a choice, and the choice was dropping out of college for boys and parties? Not a problem. You can go to college and graduate posthumously. That's Southern right there just as long as you have the right obituary writer.

In the end, the book is quite a look at aristocratic southern culture via its funerary rituals. Well, aristocratic or pretending to maintain that image. There a lot of rituals and details in a good southern funeral. At times, I found amusing some of the rituals and details, but there are also things that struck me as a bit ridiculous. Chalk it up to them being southern I suppose (versus me not being southern, i.e. to them I suppose I would not "get it.").

The book overall was a good read. It does have a lot of recipes included, which makes sense since food is such a big part of the funerals. A lot of the recipes are what I would describe as very "old school," but this is about tradition after all. I am just saying you won't see these recipes on cooking television unless it's some show with some modern chef coming to yell at them for serving Civil War era food in the 21st century. The book was entertaining, but it was also a bit stuffy at times. In the end, I liked it, but it was not a big deal.

I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Here are a few more notes of things I wanted to remember or found amusing in the book:

In the South,  good note writing skills and manners are crucial. You do not want to be the woman that others say "I bet her mother wasn't a Southern girl" (75). It is a Southern mother's duty to make sure her children (and we assume here this means her girls) can write good notes. So, how does a note from a Southern girl work?

"A note from a Southern girl never has a fill-in-the-blank feel. There is nothing generic about it. A Southern girl has to stop herself from gushing more than Old Faithful. If she is writing a thank-you note for a toaster, she doesn't just say thank you. She tells you about every little ol' thing she's ever toasted in it or is likely to toast in it. In a sympathy note, she doesn't say that Uncle Willie who has been lost will now be missed-- she recalls the cute bow ties Uncle Willie always wore. She does not recall that he also had a cute mistress named Lorene" (75). 

The book speaks further on the importance of stationery. Monograms on stationery do need to be really engraved so they pass the "finger test." An exception could be made, but otherwise, do not go cheap:

"Of course, we invented shabby genteel down here, and we really don't mind if a family scrimps because of actual economic hardship. We are not pleased, however, when somebody who made a good crop last year resorts to that cheesy, pre-printed stationery supplied by the funeral home. A death is the time for the best stationery  you can afford" (76). 

However, there may be moments to be glad you live in a small town. A sudden death can be a reminder of this:

"People in small towns instinctively want to help each other through a crisis. In good times, you're always complaining that everybody knows your business. In bad times, you know that the covered dishes are on the way. The smaller the town, the more food you will get" (143). 

As a private introvert, people all wanting to know my business in a small town has been a bit of an adjustment, balancing between being open and friendly and setting boundaries without appearing to be rude. Part of me wonders if I get to live here (Berea, KY) long enough if a covered dish or two might show up at my funeral (it is not as Southern as the Deep South here, but they still have enough Southern here at the edge of Appalachia).

And speaking of funeral food in the South, here is a not-so-secret secret:

"A cardinal rule of Southern funeral cooking: Fresh is not best" (145).

So expect casseroles, carbs, and things made with a base of mushroom soup. For many, that is definitely comfort food. For me, it's pizza and pasta, so feel free to bring plenty to my funeral.

Now, funeral food comes friends, family, so on. A lot of covered dishes come in. How do you, the recipient, keep track of who brought what and where to return the empty dish? There is a solution for that too: calling cards. No, they are not just for leaving in the little silver tray when you visit:

". . . attaching them to the funeral food offering. We write what we brought on the other side. This not because we insist upon being thanked but because we know we will be, and we want to make it as easy as possible for the family member in charge of notes to do so without being embarrassed by not having the foggiest what we brought" (210). 

And after the funeral, a restorative cocktail is a good thing. It might even help folks finish off that pineapple casserole. Right after a funeral you need two things to celebrate life, and those are friends and alcohol. I can certainly agree with that. Such time for friends and drinking after the funeral is "also a good time to reminisce about the person who has died and to celebrate life" (213). I know when mom passed away, we did some good drinking back home, and we did reminisce quite a bit while were at it. Because in the end, whether you have a big fancy funeral or a small simple ritual, it is about celebrating life, the life of the one dearly departed and the lives of those who remain.

* * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Monday, April 06, 2015

Booknote: Spawn: Shadows of Spawn, Volumes 2 and 3

Juzo Tokoro, Spawn: Shadows of Spawn, Volume 2. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2006. ISBN: 1-58240-542-5.

Juzo Tokoro, Spawn: Shadows of Spawn, Volume 3. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2006. ISBN: 1-58240-576-X.

Genre: Manga
Subgenre: superheroes, horror (light)
Format: paperback
Source: Part of a set of three I got used at Half Price Books. 

In the second volume of this series, Ken Kurosawa, the new Spawn, keeps struggling to figure out his past memories after his return to Earth, and he strives to protect his sister Mariko. Seven years passed since Ken died and returned to Earth. By now, Mariko has grown up, and she is finding success as a movie star. Mariko has also unknowingly made very powerful enemies along the way. It is Hollywood after all, which can be a dog eat dog establishment. Meanwhile, Spawn faces new obstacles and rivals. An angel that hunts demons confronts him, and then Spawn meets a very reluctant mentor, an older Hell Spawn who has resisted the higher demon Malebolgia. The tale also gives us some glimpses of Spawn's humanity.

The volume was a good and quick read. The story does take some twists and turns as Clown
continues to tease and taunt Spawn, giving Spawn very few clues. The art continues to be very good as well. This was one volume I really liked as it is a good action story with a good amount of intrigue and suspense.

Giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

The action and intrigue continue in the third volume of the series. This one did end a bit abruptly. Ken, our Spawn, continues to learn from his past. He gets a reminder of how promises made are not always easy to keep. There is a lot more action in this volume in comparison to the previous two. I continue to like the art very much. If I find more volumes in the series, I will certainly read and review them given the story does draw you in. As the previous volumes, this was also a pretty quick read that I really liked.

Also giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

* * *

These two volumes qualify for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, April 03, 2015

Booknote: Darker Edge of Desire

Mitzi Szereto, ed., Darker Edge of Desire: Gothic Tales of Romance. Berkeley, CA: Tempted Romance, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-940550-00-8

Genre: Fiction, short fiction
Subgenre: erotic romance, Gothic fiction, horror (light).
Format: Trade paperback
Source: Provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is a collection of tales of the sensual and forbidden in the Gothic tradition. Many of the tales have a strong supernatural element; others simply have that dark feel that really does not need something supernatural to draw you into the shadows. Some of the tales may be a bit horrifying, and others can be bittersweet and even moving.

Kate Douglas' Foreword sets up the anthology. It reminds us of the appeal of darkness and how darkness can be seen as the counterbalance of light. In a tale, as in life, things can often go one way or another depending on how far you lean to one side or the other. In love and desire this is so, and things can often be twisted in dark ways even with good intentions. And yet, darkness can be alluring, and we just have to step into the darkness. Douglas is author of the Wolf Tales series. I did find it an amusing twist that Douglas, who writes about the supernatural and werewolves, is, as she states, "not by nature a fan of the Gothic tale or the truly dark story" (ix). See? The Gothic tales do draw just about anyone in. So will you accept the invitation to surrender to the darkness as well?

From there, you get a solid collection of tales to read and enjoy. These are tales to sit back, dim the lights, make your favorite beverage (hot, cold, a little stronger perhaps), and the let the authors take you into darkness. This is a perfect anthology to read in bed late at night. The strength of the anthology is how well it captures the essence of a good Gothic tale with a good bit of erotic romance. The tales are well written, and they display good attention to detail and feel. Readers who like their romance with a very dark edge will enjoy this one. If you enjoyed writers like Sheridan Le Fanu, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, and some Joyce Carol Oates even, this is an anthology for you. If you also like your erotica on the dark side as well, and you like it literary, pick this one up.

For libraries, if they already collect romance literature and paranormal fiction, this would make a very good addition. It is erotic romance; there is sex (though not as much as in a work more in the erotica tradition), so it is not for the cozy or innocent (i.e. those who prefer no sex) romance readers. Overall, I think most romance readers who like dark, haunted, and/or gothic tales will like this. I would add that you do not have to be a formal romance reader to enjoy this one. If you like dark gothic tales overall, then this is a good choice. In the end, the book has a broad appeal. Like more anthologies, some stories are better than others, but overall the majority of stories were great, satisfying, and a little unsettling. The editor definitely has a good eye, and she made some very good selections here. I certainly recommend this one.

Mitzi Szereto also edited the anthology Red Velvet and Absinthe, so readers who enjoy this one may want to seek that one out as well. 

I am giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.

Some of the stories that I liked or stayed with me:

  • "Sister Bessie's Boys" was a favorite tale for me. It is the tale of a southern widow who runs a boarding house for students of a Baptist seminary. This is a coming of age tale with a sensual gothic sensibility. Yes, it is a tale of the older woman teaching the young man the ways of pleasure, but it is also a moving tale with a bittersweet ending.
  • Adrian Ludens' narrator in "Reynolds's Tale" has a meeting with a famous Baltimore writer. The narrator is also burdened by secrets he keeps, including one that can drive others mad. A mysterious narrator, the setting, the secrets, they all add to tale with a strong gothic essence. 
  • Mitzi Szereto, the editor, contributes "The Dracula Club" to this fine collection. A young woman, a goth girl, leaves her small Ohio town to travel to Transylvania in search of the real Dracula culture. Two local young men take it upon themselves to show her the real Transylvania and delights she just may not be able to resist. This story has a great setting, and it provides just enough of an unsettling feeling to make you wonder. 
On a final note, the publisher, Tempted Romance, is a new imprint of Cleis Press dedicated to erotic romance. If this anthology is any indication, readers of erotic romance will want to keep an eye on what they put out down the road. 

If you wish to buy the book, you can visit the publisher: Tempted Romance (imprint of Cleis Press).
If you wish to find it in a library near you, you can use WorldCat

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The book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges: